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The latest high-tech gadgets are a huge hit with cops. More specifically, they like toys that might be against the law, are intrusive, and often do more harm than good. Even more specifically, they love it when no one but themselves knows they have such dangerous tools.
So, you’ll have to forgive us if we say we weren’t surprised to learn that the Boston Police Department spent more than $500,000 in seized money from citizens to buy a “stingray” to intercept suspects’ phone data. This was done without the knowledge of Boston’s own city council members. Would you also think that they don’t have anything to say about it in public?
According to a thorough investigation by WBUR and ProPublica, the city’s police department spent about $627,000 on a cell site simulator in 2019. They did this by taking advantage of a loophole so that neither the public nor the government could find out about it.
The Boston police bought their simulator with money that is usually taken during drug investigations. This is called “civil asset forfeiture,” and the money is almost always kept, no matter how the case turns out. “The money is up to the police chiefs in Massachusetts, and the public has almost no way of knowing how it is spent,” ProPublica writes.
In this case, they bought a “stingray,” which they then used to track the locations, data, and contacts of their targets, as well as the phones of other people who didn’t know what was going on.
As many experts have said in the past, the only real way to solve problems like this is to make major changes that move the money from civil asset forfeitures away from police departments and into a more general state slush fund. Until then, cops will still be able to technically buy these things without much trouble.
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